Email As a Journaling Tool

Email-journal-BlazeAs I mentioned in my previous post, I’m journaling the heck out of this relocation experience. I may not be making as much sense of things right now as I’d like – that usually takes more time and distance. But I will have the details as I saw them when things were fresh, raw and new with all the roller coaster dips and climbs as they happen.

During this time when each moment is precious, I often face a choice: email a friend or write in my journal. As soon as I discovered email, I recognized its power as a personal history archive or journal. But who has time to sort through half a million emails to find those key 100? Especially when they’re scattered across half a dozen accounts and … you get the picture.

A couple of months ago, the lights went on. I saw a way to combine three main journaling streams – paper journal, a journal in Word, and email. I can write a long email detailing current stress and success, then copy the relevant part and paste in my Word Journal doc for the current year. That part is a no-brainer. The key to making it work for me right now is to pick up my paper journal and make a one line entry: “Aug. 30, Sunday, see Word Journal.”

I don't use my Word Journal nearly as often as my paper one. My Word one is lovely with virtual pink paper, a string of red hearts atop each page, and a handwriting font in blue ink. Realizing that layout is dependent on having that font installed and Microsoft’s history of changing document storage formats, I know better than to rely on Microsoft for long-term stability. I have 25-year-old Word Perfect files I can still access, but the layout and font info are out the window.

The simplest solution is to save each year's volume in PDF format, with the font embedded. Embedded fonts are the default if you create the PDF document with Word. PDF format is widely regarded as the most stable format for long-term accessibility. I'll also keep my word docs and revisit them every few years to keep them fresh.

Ultimately I may print them. Paper is still the most likely and accessible form for some descendant to find hidden away 85 years from now.

Returning briefly to that paper journal – sometimes I jot quick memory notes on random scraps of paper. I don't recopy those. I tear them out and stick in the relevant spot in my journal.

Write now: start adapting this system to fit your preferences. If you journal only on your computer, form the habit of pasting in relevant snips from email. If you don't have a digital journal, start one. It doesn't have to be fancy like mine. A plain old Word file will do. Just date each entry as you start and leave a couple of extra lines at the end. You can easily go to the end of the document via Ctrl+End. Hopefully a Mac user will leave a comment about how to do this in your version of Word. 

With this simple system you can have many of the benefits of journaling without ever specifically writing a journal entry!


Linda said...

I did not know about the importance of saving docs as PDF but you can be sure I'll do that--and of course I'll pass this on to others!

In the past (during key years of my life) I have copied and pasted hundreds of emails into Word docs, and I have also printed out many, many pages. I have used them a LOT in writing memoirs. Thanks for all this good stuff, Sharon!

kathleen pooler said...

Sharon, this post resonated as I have saved and used pertinent emails for inclusion in my stories. I never thought to save them in a pdf file, though so thank you for that suggestion. No doubt your relocation journal will yield many stories. Best wishes as you move forward into this next phase and thanks, as always, for your helpful tips!

Sharon Lippincott said...

Linda, glad to hear you've been keeping email accessible all along. PDF format is especially important if you've put effort into formatting. The text content should be okay for at least twenty years, probably long, but may require some work for easy reading. That's the case with my ancient WordPerfect files. The last version of WordPerfect I owned was 2000.

Sharon Lippincott said...

Kathy, I'm not suggesting saving your emails in pdf format. That might not work well. It's not easy to copy things out of pdf files. You get a hard return at the end of every line. What I do is save everything in one file for an entire year -- or maybe a half year if it's intense. Then I save that completed journal file as a pdf in addition to the Word doc.

Linda said...

The pdf format is a great idea! I print the journal entries I write on the computer, and then paste them into my paper journal. That way, I have both together. I also include emails I want to keep in my electronic journal, so they also get printed and kept.
I often think about the possibility that electronic records can be lost irretrievably, so paper works much better for long-term records.

Sharon Lippincott said...

Good point Linda. I tend to print sparingly because I write so much I'd fill an entire room if I printed everything. Also, I tend to update things each time I read them, usually finding them in a file search on my computer. But I do keep paper copies of key material.

I like paper for long-term viability. I like digital because it's searchable, shareable, easily edited, and easy to reformat for various purposes.

Peter B. Giblett said...

I would have to say that I have never found email of any value as a personal history archive or journal and the reason I say this is because there is too much clutter in email, the important stuff is all too easily disguised by the heaps of irrelevant material (even after removing all the junk mail). I keep the things of value to me in a software notebook I have available to me 24 * 7, and I can keep something of value in my email system - I use Evernote for everything of value, creating and retaining my information.

Sharon Lippincott said...

Thanks for mentioning Evernote Peter. I'm a huge fan and use it constantly. I totally get what you say about leaving things in email long-term, though I don't totally discount it. If you use Windows and search the folder where your inbox is stored, you'll find anything you're looking for and can read it in the Preview pane without opening.

As much as I love Evernote, I'm still sticking with copying and pasting into an ongoing document as MY primary way of saving journal-type material, especially topical like this move. It's all in one document there, chronologically arranged.

Our differing preferences here emphasize that it's important for each person to find a system that works for YOU and stick with it. I cringe at the thought of killing trees, but some people may be best served by printing things out.